The essence of spirituality
True spirituality does not vest in any one religion or form of piety, it is to be found in the least expected of places. This is what the editors of this volume believe and their argument is pretty interesting.
THE new Oxford Dictionary of English defines "oxymoron" as a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction. Anyone who would like to see the noun played out in real life need only hearken unto what our amazing HRD minister keeps coming up with. He has now cast himself in the mould of the "secularist" par excellence doing his best to keep impressionable young minds from being infected with the communal virus. This is rather like the lion and the lamb, the wolf and little Red Riding Hood being held up as examples of peace in action and harmony on earth. The spiritual Mr. Joshi would do well to read The Best Spiritual Writing 2001 edited by Philip Zaleski and Andre Dubus III (Harper San Francisco) to better understand what true spirituality is all about.
True spirituality does not vest in any one religion or form of piety, it is to be found in the least expected of places. This is what the editors of this volume believe and their argument is pretty seductive. Writes Andre Dubus III in his introduction: "Great soul is found in art and all of its concrete, specific, and sensual particulars ... It seems no writing can approach the truly spiritual until it seeks to evoke the lowly terrain of the soul and the body that holds it". This is precisely what Philip Zaluski has been doing with this anthology since its inception in 1998 when he wrote in that first preface, "I take the best spiritual writing to be prose or poetry that addresses, in a manner both profound and beautiful, the workings of the soul".
This year's volume includes an astonishingly beautiful long poem by Wendell Berry called "Sabbaths, 1999" from which I'll quote a fragment:
``I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wild flowers
are blooming, and who goes
where they are and stands still
and finds that he is smiling
and not by his own will..."
Another wonderful piece in this anthology, "The Exegesis of Eating" by Alane Salierno Mason, celebrates the spiritual nature of food. The author, an Italian American, writes brilliantly of the joys of her grandmother's cooking. A piece by the writer, Joan D. Stamm, on the Japanese veneration of flowers and their arrangement is beautifully done as are a piece on St. Francis of Assisi, an astonishing interview with Camus, the great existential writer, and an especially striking piece entitled "How to Pray" by Ben Birnbaum that most of us would benefit by reading.
I began this week's column by referring to our esteemed HRD Minister, so I'd like to end by paraphrasing a story that the co-editor of the volume, Philip Zaleski, tells about the celebrated monk and writer Thomas Merton. A week before he died in December 1968, Merton who had been travelling through California, Alaska, Hawaii and India came to Sri Lanka where he beheld the great Buddhas in the caves of Polonnaruwa. He was tired, exhausted and ill but the sight of these extraordinary sculptures had a tremendous impact. "I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious," he wrote. So why was this Christian monk so lifted out of himself by these representations of the Buddha? Talking of the awesome silence and calm of the statues, Merton wrote that the Buddhas stood for a way of life "that needs nothing and can therefore afford to be silent, unnoticed, undiscovered". He writes that they have "seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything without refutation without establishing some other argument ... For the doctrinaire such silence can be frightening". It's a lesson this country's spiritual "guardians" would do well to learn.
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